O’so Good 4th of July Challenge
July 6th, White Lake, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Series riders traded heavy rains for high temperatures when they took the line for a rescheduled O’so Good 4th of July Challenge held at the Bearpaw Resort on the Wolf River. Bearpaw is a pedal and paddle resort built for active people, and it features miles of twisted single track over a boulder filled landscape. The funky terrain only added to the surreal events that unfolded as the humid day wore on
Denise Coppock of the Titletown Flyers had returned from a hypothermic trip to 24 Hour Nationals and a 5th in the South Dakota NUE race. She jumped off to a typical lead in the 10 hour solo race despite facing her toughest competition of the year in former series champ April Dombrowski from Team Pedal Morraine. The men’s field included series leader Matt Millin of Mountain Outfitters, former runner-up Randy Wegener from Fond du Lac Cyclery, and David Swanson who was last seen finishing high in the Trans-Iowa on the same mountain bike he would use to face the rocks at Bearpaw. Five-time series champ Chris Schotz of Giant-Bikes N Boards was back in the solo division and uncertain whether he could still go the distance.
The test of wills began with Wegener at the front with Schotz in tow. Early in the first lap Swanson moved off the front, and Schotz bridged to meet him. They rode together through the switchback oven of the final climb and both finished the lap under half an hour. The short lap gave riders plenty of opportunity to hydrate, and as the day wore on, riders saw plenty of temptation to sit in a chair and cool off. Schotz discovered that he was draining a bottle every lap and still his hydration was falling behind.
On lap 8 Schotz caught Swanson who had struggled with back pain and dropped to 5th, now a lap down but revitalized by a good douse of cold water. He latched on to Schotz and soon they moved past wildcard Jason Balden who was determined to go the distance in his first long course race. Swanson moved up to 3rd when he and Schotz found Millin and others parked on pit row. There was already talk of a mass surrender to the high temperatures. Schotz and Swanson learned that Wegener was just 3 minutes up the trail, the only rider that stood between Schotz and lapping the field plus Swanson’s highest WEMS finish. They met at the base of a gravel double-track climb that would have made a great drag strip, by Wegener would not take the bait and stuck to his own pace, determined that the hours ahead would see the tables turn.
Schotz and Swanson finished the lap 3 minutes ahead of Wegener. With a lap up on the field, Schotz hoped for a peaceful group ride through the remaining hours, but with a tight 4-way battle for 2nd, the truce would have to wait. Wegener soon took off on the next lap with Swanson, Millin and Schotz in tow. Schotz rode with Wegener and both made their share of silly errors with Wegener trying to ride right through the barrier tape and Schotz just plain tipping over. By the end of the lap it was now Wegener who had the minute lead over Swanson, and it was Millin who finally surrendered for the day. As Wegener chilled himself in the pits Swanson shot past with a smile, and the race was on. Wegener’s counter attack failed to pull Swanson back so with 10 laps completed it looked as if Wegener would settle for a podium position with Swanson solidly in 2nd and Schotz along for the ride, a lap ahead, but 3 hours remained before time expired. All wondered how much longer they would keep pounding each other in his heat.
Swanson and Schotz finished the next lap together and learned that Wegener had been aroused from a 20 minute rest when Balden rolled past aiming to steal the podium spot. At that point Schotz still had the legs, but his head had been boiled in an electrolyte stew so he could not answer the call when Swanson went back on trail to hold his position. It looked like Schotz was done for the day. After washing down ibuprofen with straight water he laid on the ground with a wet cloth to cool his head. After agonizing minutes he was able to get back to a chair. His head was clearing, but it took some trash talk from Coppock to finally get him rolling again.
Meanwhile Wegener had finished a lap just ahead of Balden, but Balden’s quick pit took Wegener by surprise and sent him off unprepared. Wegener bonked and lost the position, but was revitalized when he found Balden sitting on pit row and turned the tables for good on the next lap. Dropping temperatures allowed all to finish out the day in relative comfort. Millin’s 5th place on the day kept him in the series lead, but it looks like a tough 3-way battle will be waged over the remaining six races.
Cory Samz finished 2nd behind Ted Hanes in the 3-hour course race to move within a point of Eric Stanke in the short course series. Chris Tries rode 10 laps in 5:47, but a 3rd place in the 6-hour race day allowed Dan Tavela to hold his mid-course series lead over Russel Bernard. Riders will get to race the popular Emma Carlin trails for the first time on July 20th as the series moves down to the South Kettles.
Photos: Viktorija Christine Photography